Football's return adds to great British summer

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We are on the cusp. When does one football season end, and another begin? Sunday July 21 2013: an Ashes Test match, the Tour de France’s ultimate day, the British Open Golf Championship is coming to a close.

Football is down the pecking order. It never really actually goes away, and in a year’s time we will only be a week on from the World Cup Final in Brazil.

During this coming week will be the fourth consecutive round of the early legs of European competition. Surviving Irish and Welsh clubs will likely see their run come to an end before their domestic seasons begin. Clubs from many of the weaker countries in Europe will be travelling in hope. Celtic play Cliftonville; that’s the one most likely to generate some modest column inches.

More column inches than seem necessary are already being devoted to possible player transfers involving the wealthier clubs in the Premier League. Some of these clubs are touring the world, cashing-in on the curious enthusiasm that exists for their respective “brands”.

My newspaper records the results of over fifty friendly matches concerning British teams. Real Madrid beat Bournemouth 6-0; this warranted a full match report. Bradford City and Aberdeen are over in the Republic of Ireland.

Fulham played Saprissa, who I take to be the Costa Rican team from the capital, San Jose. Norwich lost in San Jose, who I assume are the Earthquakes from the U.S.A.’s MSL. Nottingham Forest entertained Antwerp. Many more games involve less travel. Wrexham lost to Airbus U.K. (only 2 weeks ago exited, narrowly,  from Europe); Bristol City held off Forest Green for a 1-0 win; Middlesbrough & Hartlepool played out a goalless draw; likewise Hull & Sheffield Wednesday; Derby won 4-1 on the short trip to Buxton.

Crewe Alexandra went to Chester, erstwhile League rivals within Cheshire, and could only draw, one apiece. I don’t regret missing the game, but if I hadn’t been returning from a camping holiday, would’ve happily had a couple of beers and watched it with a friend who supports Chester.

Other results recorded include an Airtricity League of Ireland, Premier Division game between Cobh Ramblers and Longford Town – a ‘goalfest’, 4-3 to Cobh. In Scotland I notice a Preliminary Round 2nd leg within the ‘Ramsdens Cup’; Threave Rovers won one-nil against Spartans, but it isn’t enough to compensate for their poor showing in the away leg, and they’re the first team to exit this competition on a 3-4 aggregate.

Wikipedia tells me that this Ramsdens Cup is the Scottish Challenge Cup, an early-season taster for all those clubs not playing in Scotland’s top division, plus a few clubs (Threave, Spartans, and from further north, Formantine United) from outside what is now to be called the Scottish Professional Football League.

During this week it is announced, showing a high degree of imagination, the various levels of this ‘new’ league would be named (“new Scottish league brands unveiled”), the Scottish Premiership, Scottish Championship, Scottish League One & Scottish League Two, thus copying exactly the titles of England’s leading four tiers.

The last of the weekend’s football results reflect a major tournament – the UEFA Women’s European Championship. In the quarter finals, Sweden, the hosts, beat Iceland 4-0, whilst Germany overcame Italy one-nil. I know that these two meet in the semi-final as there has been decent television coverage spread across a couple of BBC channels. I’ve yet to watch a whole game live, though might’ve done but for the aforementioned camping trip.

The standards within the women’s game seem to be rising, year-on-year. England were eliminated in the group stage, and didn’t really do themselves justice, for whatever reasons. There will be an inquest, and we will put our faith in the boffins at St.George’s Park to identify priority areas for development, alongside their analysis of the relative failures of the under-21, under-20 & under-19 England men’s/youth teams in tournaments this summer.

I noted before the women’s tournament began, that Hope Powell, the England team manager for many years now, felt that the only difference between men’s and women’s football was physical; she felt that her players’ technique was right up there with the men’s. 

I think she might’ve been better saying that, in time, given equal access to good coaching, there should be no logical reason why women’s football techniques shouldn’t be equal to men’s. Sadly, despite tremendous improvements in the last quarter of a century in particular, what Hope said was patently untrue, and could be seen to be untrue when witnessing her team’s performances at this latest tournament.

There is a huge amount of analysis ongoing, and now centred upon St.George’s Park, of how this country can produce better players, but it’s difficult not to come to the conclusion, when watching any international tournament in which an England team participates, that nearly every other country of any size possesses players with a decent first touch, and a love of receiving the ball.

Maybe we, the spectators, of whom many are family members and friends of young players performing on the parks and pitches across this country, are partially to blame?

Our impatience for ‘action’ and moving the ball into threatening areas quickly is perhaps a root cause, despite the very best intentions of hard-working and even well-qualified coaches up and down the land. Figures reveal that the ‘coach-to-player ratio’ in many other European countries is far better than ours; so we have some catching up to do, and maybe more coaches, with influence, will tilt the balance; maybe?

Regardless of quality, I’m ready for some proper action again. It was great watching Andy Murray win Wimbledon, but no amount of cricket and athletics can compete with the beautiful game, even when it’s not played beautifully. “Chelsea talk up title pressure on rivals City.” “Rooney ordered to join United’s Sweden trip.” “Bale is staying put, says Villas Boas.” “Arsenal in £40m + £1 bid to land Suarez” “Liverpool owner John W Henry has asked what ‘they're smoking’ at Arsenal after rejecting the Gunners' improved offer of just over £40m for Luis Suarez.”

Enough of this! Bring on Crewe Alexandra v Aston Villa at Gresty Road.


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